[2 February 2006]
The liner prints a rear view photo of a solidly built gent with no excess of head hair, apparently playing harmonica and driving a car (but presumably not chewing gum) at the same time. This has to be Bill Rhoades, who’ll presumably recall the gum chewing reference. It was made by Lyndon Johnson of another politician, at a time when Brother Rhoades was beginning to hear about a musical genre called the Blues, which wasn’t even approximately publicised in those united states of disinformation which helped make so many people so much money at the expense of American music.
Veteran British jazz enthusiasts/musicians took an interest in Blues as early as when one subsequent critic of note led his parents to doubt his sanity, playing a Sleepy John Estes record in 1930s England. Britons then had small reason to believe themselves well-informed about jazz, far less blues, forms that evolved far away in another land. The British trombonist Chris Barber, whose band has performed as well as anybody (I mean things of more musical interest than providing nostalgia for elderly Germans), was interested in Blues in the early 1950s. Interested in the history of jazz rather than in any latest thing, he picked up on root musics, and over decades toured with bluesmen, and Dr. John, as well as jazzmen. One day in London, chatting to John Lewis (God bless him!) of Modern Jazz Quartet fame, Barber was told Muddy Waters was the man to bring over. So he did.
This greatly impressed young British musicians already encouraged to emulate Barber’s efforts to play the Blues. Out from among them arose a band called the Rolling Stones, playing Blues and R&B, and the vogue of British rock in the 1960s got them booked in North America, home to the styles they were emulating. That incidentally helped British jazz. For years, the Musicians Union in Britain had an unmusical policy of forbidding foreigners to perform where British musicians could. Hence no inspiration from outside musicians, or indeed audiences, which the then damned fool Union didn’t give a thought to. Barber toured some regions of the US few Britons have heard of, all because somebody had to go over in an exchange to allow Dave Brubeck some British gigs. He still thinks his band played the first live jazz ever heard in some American towns.
When subsequent rock millionaires ripped off old Chicago blues recordings for American students, they boggled at being asked how more of the same could be heard. Like much sound advice, “Take a bus” wasn’t easily believed.
As this was happening, Bill Rhoades discovered the existence of blues, and like some of his British seniors, had a go at finding more. He learned a lot and is still playing harmonica (mostly, one presumes, not when driving!). He won’t be terribly offended if I liken him to Snooky Pryor, adding of course that Pryor is rather older.
Pryor also has more weight in his voice, whereas Rhoades, like a lot of white exponents of Blues, hasn’t the vocal equipment to dig in. But he does damned well swing, as he does here on a version of Eddie Vinson’s “Kidney Stew”, and even more Charles Brown’s “She Walks Right In”. Mike Osborn’s guitar swings like T-Bone Walker.
Reflecting of late on the sort of drumming to be heard on second or third rank jazz of a contemporary but not rebarbative sort, I have been tempted to suggest a blues band of no pretentions might be where said merchants of excessively regular socking might belong. I apologise unreservedly for even the least suspicion that we do not have here the proper propulsive co-operation between the percussionist and the other guys: with the whole of the music, that is. They can play the blues.
My sheltered life has denied me knowledge of what the shruti box is that Dave Lange plays on the final track, although fortunate early contact with a stunning Scottish blues pianist called Grant MacTavish (Google the name!) brought me into contact with Cripple Clarence Lofton’s “Sixes and Sevens”, which that track is supposed to be a version of. Frankly, the performance here sounds only to have been inspired by it, but it certainly sounds inspired, and Rhoades deserves royalties. Freedom from slickness is a Rhoades band virtue, as in the instrumental “Cindy Ann”, with Michael Osborn matching Rhoades’s harp with a harmonically aware guitar solo, and Tom Szell is bang on with bass. His name’s Szell, from Cleveland? Does he come from a musical family?
Terry Robb produces some slide guitar guesting on the Muddy Waters tune “She Moves Me”, and nobody sings like Muddy, but while resemblances are inevitable, the guitar part’s no sheer imitation. On Tampa Red’s “Don’t You Lie to Me”, Rhoades sings very like some very good Scottish blues performers I know. The little band drives and if another current white harp player reminds me of Buddy Guy’s guitar, Rhoades is the equivalent of a slide guitarist. Much drive, from the first track on, with high energy and nice interplay with Osborn “Waiting and Walking” and “I’m Trying” are solid Rhoades songs. J.B. Hutto’s “Now She’s Gone” has Vince Carlyle as a second guitarist, adding extra oomph, and includes especially nice support from Osborn in Carlyle’s solo. “Hurt Again” is less satisfactory, probably as a measure of these guys’ real competence. In the end, they know what matters.